I have had a cough for 3 weeks. Luckily, not the flu, but this harsh cough. And my story is that “I never get sick, this is so unlike me” and “this cough is not going to stop me.” and with every cough “will this freaking cough ever go away?”
When we get sick or being assigned a “diagnosis” it brings up lots of challenges. One of the largest challenges is our relationship with our bodies and to ourselves. What do I mean by that? How often do we really think about that? We all just assume that our bodies are going to cooperate with us. When our bodies go out of wack, we get really upset. I think this is so fascinating. Think about it for a minute. What is your relationship with your own body? Do you love it and take care of it? Do you take it for granted? Do you assume that it just going to be there for you whenever you need it? Do you accuse it of “falling apart?” Do you wish it looked differently? Behaved differently? Do you feel it is working against you? Getting in the way of you living your life? It is not natural or typical thought to thank our bodies for letting us be in this world. We never say, “Well my gallbladder is shot, but at least the other 98% of me is working.” We have so many automatic thoughts about our own bodies, but most times we aren’t even aware of them. And then when we get sick, all that negative self-talk comes to the surface. So this is interesting. But what is even more fascinating to me is that a different thought can lead to a different result in one’s health. Isn’t that crazy? Let me give an example:
- Elma breaks her hip. Her thought is “ I may never walk again”
- Martha breaks her hip. Her thought is “ I am so stupid for falling”
- Josephine breaks her hip. Her thought is “ This is just a small set back”
- Bertha breaks her hip. Her thought is “ As long as I can make it to my grand daughter’s wedding in 3 months, I will be fine”
Who do you think is going to do well after their operation with physical therapy? Who is going to accept some discomfort and get up with a walker on day 1? Who is going to want to sleep for 3 days? And if you follow this progression through, the person who is motivated to get well again is going to have a much better result than the person who is feeling ashamed or scared.
You may think that well, people just have different personalities and that is something you just cannot change. But I challenge this idea. Perhaps Martha tends to blame herself for her own mistakes. That is just her tendency. But, if we just gave her the option to think another thought, we discussed this further with Martha and really understood why she goes there by default and allowing her to see that then we can open the pathway to adjusting her thoughts. As Martha’s doctor, I could ask her how that thought “I am so stupid” makes her feel? Martha will likely say “bad, or angry, or ashamed” What I often offer after Marth’s answer is, well you can feel “bad or stupid” if you want to, but I don’t think that is going to really serve you. Then I would ask her “what result do you want from this hospitalization?” Often I get a “Well that’s obvious doc, I want to get better!” Do you see what I did? I helped guide Martha into thinking a different thought, now she is thinking about how she wants to get better. (or she is thinking, “what a weirdo doctor”) but I am ok with either.
Back to my cough. I was totally lying to myself when I thought “I never get sick”. Of course, I get sick sometimes. I was just thinking that thought and feeling a little angry that my body wasn’t’ cooperating like it “should”. It probably does not serve me to get angry at my throat every time I cough. Hmm, new thought? “My cough is just temporary”